Als look­ing to con­nect with fans from get-go

Mov­ing camp to Big O grounds gives play­ers chance to ad­just to city’s cul­ture

Montreal Gazette - - SPORTS - HERB ZURKOWSKY hzurkowsky@post­media.com twit­ter.com/Her­bZurkowsky1

The last time the Alou­ettes held train­ing camp in Mon­treal, Bob Price was the head coach, Jim Popp was the gen­eral man­ager, Tracy Ham was the quar­ter­back and the own­er­ship group, led by Michael Gelfand and Jim Speros, didn’t pay many of their bills at John Ab­bott Col­lege.

The year was 1996. The Als were re­turn­ing to the Cana­dian Foot­ball League fol­low­ing a nine-year ab­sence, and although a good por­tion of the ros­ter was com­prised from the de­funct Bal­ti­more Stal­lions, we didn’t know what to ex­pect.

As the Als pre­pare for the start of this year’s camp on Sun­day af­ter­noon, the team is com­ing off a fran­chise worst 3-15 sea­son, hav­ing lost its last 11 games. And we don’t know what to ex­pect.

Man­age­ment has de­cided to hold the ma­jor­ity of camp on the grounds of Olympic Sta­dium for the in­creased spec­ta­tor and me­dia ex­po­sure it an­tic­i­pates, fol­low­ing stints at the Fort St-Jean cam­pus and Bishop’s Univer­sity.

The cost dis­par­ity be­tween re­main­ing in Mon­treal, or go­ing to Len­noxville, is be­lieved to be fairly neg­li­gi­ble. While the price tag un­doubt­edly is higher in Mon­treal, there’s also a con­ve­nience fac­tor at work. In­jured and re­leased play­ers, for ex­am­ple, no longer will have to be trans­ported from Bishop’s, 150 kilo­me­tres south­east of Mon­treal.

“A part of re-es­tab­lish­ing our­selves in the com­mu­nity is to bring our­selves back, so peo­ple can get a first­hand look at what we’re try­ing to be and es­tab­lish right away in 2018,” gen­eral man­ager Kavis Reed said. “It also gives us in­for­ma­tion on how the play­ers func­tion in Mon­treal right away.

“A lot of these play­ers come from places where the cul­ture is dif­fer­ent. It gives them a chance to as­sim­i­late a lot faster and be able to ad­just.”

The ob­vi­ous con­cern about con­duct­ing camp in Mon­treal — it’s not un­usual for CFL teams to go through this ex­er­cise in their home cities — is the car­rot the or­ga­ni­za­tion will be dan­gling be­fore their play­ers. The temp­ta­tion might ex­ist for some to ex­pe­ri­ence the bar scene on Cres­cent St., although the play­ers will have a nightly cur­few through­out the du­ra­tion of camp.

The team will be us­ing a ho­tel, cen­trally lo­cated al­beit east of the down­town core, as its base for hous­ing play­ers new to the team. It will be at the dis­cre­tion of head coach Mike Sher­man whether the veter­ans, or those who have found a res­i­dence, will be al­lowed to re­turn home at night.

All meet­ings and meals will be held at Olympic Sta­dium, and the time be­tween the fi­nal meet­ing and cur­few isn’t ex­pected to be more than 60 to 90 min­utes.

“We’ve taken busi­ness pre­cau­tions and we’ll have added se­cu­rity (at the ho­tel), mak­ing cer­tain we pro­tect them from them­selves and out­side forces as much as we can,” Reed said.

“Re­gard­less of where (they’re stay­ing), they can find a way to get into trou­ble.

“At some point, the guys have to be trusted to make good de­ci­sions as to how they rep­re­sent them­selves and the team.”

It’s ex­pected to be a vastly dif­fer­ent look­ing team that opens the reg­u­lar-sea­son on June 16 in Van­cou­ver. At least half of the de­fen­sive per­son­nel could change, fol­low­ing the free-agent sign­ings of Tom­mie Camp­bell, Joe Bur­nett, Mitch White, Do­minique El­lis, Henoc Muamba, Ja­maal Wester­man and Alan-Michael Cash.

Line­backer Chip Cox could re­turn af­ter chat­ting with Reed on the phone this Satur­day.

On of­fence, re­ceiver Chris Wil­liams was ac­quired in a trade from Bri­tish Columbia, while vet­eran guard Ryan Bomben re­turns to Mon­treal fol­low­ing his re­cent trade from Hamil­ton.

Slot­back Nik Lewis has re­tired, but might re­main with the or­ga­ni­za­tion in a front-of­fice role.

The loom­ing ques­tion that re­mains, as it has vir­tu­ally ev­ery sea­son since the re­tire­ment of An­thony Calvillo, is who will play quar­ter­back?

Other than that mi­nor point — please con­tain your laugh­ter — Reed re­mains op­ti­mistic as he pre­pares for his sec­ond sea­son try­ing to res­ur­rect this once-proud fran­chise.

“We had issues with our (Cana­dian) con­tent and depth. We knew that com­ing into camp last year. That’s not an in­dict­ment on any­one. We needed to ad­dress that. We feel strongly this year that we have ad­dressed that sit­u­a­tion.

“We needed to ad­dress the lead­er­ship struc­ture in the lock­er­room. We feel we’ve done that.”

Mon­treal’s first exhibition game is slated for May 31 at Ottawa. The Als will en­ter­tain Hamil­ton on June 9.

Kavis Reed

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